Former apprentice suffers effects of asbestos time-bomb

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Former apprentice suffers effects of asbestos time-bomb

15th December 2009

A pensioner who developed cancer after being exposed to asbestos at work during the 1950s is hoping former colleagues will come forward to help in his fight for justice.

The 72-year-old from Preston, who asked not to be named, has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, a painful cancer which affects the lungs and is nearly always caused by exposure to asbestos fibres. For five years he worked as an engineer with Leyland Motors - now he is hoping former colleagues from the manufacturing plant can provide help as he fights for compensation.

"I left school in 1953 and immediately started working as an apprentice engineer with Leyland Motors," said the pensioner, known as Mr E. "I worked there until September 1958, when I was called up to do my National Service.

"I started my apprenticeship at the North Works Site in Leyland, where I made and repaired vehicle parts for buses and lorries," he said. "My work included producing parts, stampings and drop forgings, and I would also repair faulty vehicle parts.

"In late 1954 I was transferred to the Farington site, where I worked in the maintenance department and the foundry," he said.

In the foundry it was Mr E's job to repair the various machines, together with making and fitting steel ladders and platforms. "There was pipe work all over the foundry," he said. "Pipes ran up and around the outer walls, along gantry supports, and to the furnaces and the machinery. I remember being told that all of this pipe work was lagged with asbestos.

"The pipe work was old and in a very poor condition," he said. "I can remember seeing where the lagging had been painted over, but the paint had flaked leaving the asbestos exposed. The lagging itself was also old and falling off."

Mr E said one particular assignment required him to make steel platforms and ladders for each of the nine cranes in the foundry. "It took about three months to complete, working seven days a week," he said. "On most days I would be working next to, or underneath asbestos lagged pipes - they were everywhere.

"The foundry was extremely dusty and dirty," he said. "There was always sand and dust on the floor from the casting process. You could be walking on anything from a half an inch to five inches' worth of debris on the floor at any time. There was such a lot of dust on the floor that it was impossible to sweep it up as it would be bad again in half an hour," he said. "Instead they'd use shovels. It was an ongoing process to shovel up the debris."

After working at Farington for around 13 months, Mr E returned to the North Works to complete his apprenticeship. "At the end of each working day, I was covered head to toe in dust," he said. "There were no washing facilities at Leyland so I would take my overalls home for my mother to wash."

Mr E never returned to engineering following his National Service, pursuing a successful career in the public sector. But five decades after he last worked at Leyland, he began to suffer health problems. "In 2006 I developed a cough and pain on the right side of my chest, and started to feel very tired," he said. "I went to see my GP and was diagnosed with pneumonia and pleurisy. I was prescribed antibiotics and my symptoms improved.

"I still had occasional twinges on the right side of my chest, so in November 2008 I attended my GP. I had a chest X-ray, and was called back for a series of tests over the following months. Then, on 10 June this year, I was told I had mesothelioma."

Susan Dawson, an industrial disease specialist with Fentons Solicitors LLP, said it can take many years after exposure to asbestos before any related disease becomes apparent, which can make finding witnesses to support a case very difficult.

"Unless we can prove that he was exposed to asbestos, Mr E may go uncompensated for the fact that he has contracted this dreadful disease through no fault of his own," she said. "All he did was go to work. Hopefully with the help of his former colleagues, he can win his fight for justice."

Can you help?
If you remember working at Leyland Motors Ltd between 1953 and 1958, if you can verify the working conditions Mr E describes, or if you think you can help in any way, please call Susan Dawson on 0161 238 6420 or e-mail